Alexander Hamilton’s Forgotten Caribbean Island

alexander hamilton caribbean island
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Since the release of the smash Broadway hit Hamilton, the Caribbean island of Nevis has been in the limelight, with visitors drawn to the Eastern Caribbean destination to see U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton’s birthplace in downtown Charlestown. 

Hamilton was born in Nevis and lived there until age nine, before his legendary political career. He also spent a number of years living in St Croix, USVI.

Nevis remains the core of his Caribbean legacy. 

But new research shows that another nearby island was also part of Hamilton’s childhood: St Eustatius, commonly known as Statia. 

In his recent book Discovering Hamilton, historian Michael E. Newton showed that Hamilton had lived for a time on St Eustatius, which is about 35 miles from Nevis; although it was not clear how much time he had actually spent there. 

Local historian Walter Hellebrand.

Local historian Walter Hellebrand, the director of the St Eustatius Monuments organization, began delving into the historical records on the island, and found James Hamilton, Alexander’s father, listed with his wife, Rachel Faucette, and two sons for the years 1763, 1764 and 1766. 

“Unfortunately, my plans for further research in the Dutch National Archives in The Hague were frustrated by the outbreak of the covid pandemic, but of course it would be great to find out where exactly the Hamiltons lived here on St. Eustatius,” says Hellebrand. 

Statia had a close relationship with the early United States; in fact, on Nov. 16, 1776, the island was the first to acknowledge American independence in saluting the American brig called the Andrew Doria.

“It was known that Alexander was born out of wedlock and Michael E. Newton found out that his father fled from British St. Kitts to Dutch St. Eustatius to escape his debtors. This may explain why he would rather not talk about his youth,” Hellebrand says. “Alexander’s mother had already served jail time on St. Croix (USVI) for an extramarital affair. On Dutch St. Eustatius, the left hand would not know what the right hand was about. Here, the couple even paraded as man and wife long before Rachel’s husband had secured a divorce from her. St. Eustatius was one of the wealthiest and busiest places in the eighteenth century and the Hamiltons would be attracted by its opportunities and anonymity.”

It’s potentially a boon for Statia, an island that’s a short flight be from St Maarten. 

Statia.

“Since our visit to St. Eustatius,  we have been working behind the scenes with Walter Hellebrand when he made subsequent census discoveries indicating that the Hamilton family lived longer on St. Eustatius than previously thought,” said Sergio Villavicencio, vice president of the New York based Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society. 

While Hamilton was “elusive” about his childhood (it’s believed he may have even lied about his birth date), he did share one happy memory with his children: the Jewish teacher who called on him to recite the Ten Commandments in Hebrew. 

The island had a flourishing Jewish community at the time; today, Statia is home to one of the oldest extant synagogue structures in the Caribbean.

For more, visit Statia.

— CJ

 

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